UN chief heads to Middle East to help end conflict

Israeli forces' flares light up the sky in the northern Gaza Strip.   | Photo Credit: Lefteris Pitarakis

Amid an escalation of violence in the Middle East, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will leave for the region on Saturday to help end the conflict between Israel and Palestinians that has killed more than 300 people, mostly civilians.

Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman told the UN Security Council that the Secretary-General Ban is “prepared to do his part” to help the parties end the violence and find a solution to the crisis.

“The Secretary-General is extremely concerned that this escalation will further increase the already appalling death toll among Gazan civilians,” Mr. Feltman said, adding that Mr. Ban is currently reviewing a request by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas which would place Palestine under an international protection system administered by the UN.

He said while Israel has legitimate security concerns, the United Nations “is alarmed by Israel’s heavy response.”

He said while it was “indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza into Israel” that ended Friday’s five-hour humanitarian pause, the Israel Defence Force (IDF) has so far conducted four ground incursions into Gaza and about 90 airstrikes, firing 91 missiles, as well as over 500 shells.

“We again appeal to the warring parties to respect international humanitarian law obligations towards civilians, humanitarian workers and UN installations. They must exercise maximum restraint at this time of great violence and instability,” he added.

Palestinians have fired some 127 rockets and 29 mortar shells at Israel, during the same period.

Two Israelis have been killed since hostilities with Palestine began early this month.

Some 300 Palestinians, including women and children, have been killed, and more than 1,900 civilians were injured in the Israeli strikes from land, air and sea.

Mr. Feltman said the Secretary-General has been “in touch around the clock with world leaders” to facilitate collective action to stop the violence, and was alarmed when fighting resumed after the humanitarian pause.

The temporary pause in fighting had raised hopes for a long-term ceasefire to be brokered by the Egypt government.

Mr. Abbas on Friday met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Cairo, and both agreed to the necessity of an immediate ceasefire and the urgency of holding a donors conference to start rebuilding the Gaza Strip, Mr. Feltman said.

Mr. Feltman stressed the importance of refocusing efforts towards a two-state solution as the only viable route to end the decades-long conflict in the Middle East.

“Our appeal stands on the Israeli and Palestinian leadership to defuse tensions and act responsibly,” he said.

In a statement issued by his spokesperson, Mr. Ban had called for an immediate end to the “indiscriminate firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel and Israeli retaliatory action.”

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Printable version | May 13, 2021 9:25:01 AM |

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